The Download: April 17

This is The Download, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

US Department of Commerce blocks US firms’ sales to ZTE for seven years


The US Department of Commerce has announced a ban on American exports to the Chinese smartphone maker ZTE. That means that that American companies like Dolby and Qualcomm won’t be able to export parts to ZTE for up to seven years. The loss of Qualcomm is particularly significant since it severely restricts ZTE’s options for devices in the US.

According to the Commerce Department, ZTE failed to upload a plea agreement after pleading guilty to illegally shipping US agreement to Iran and North Korea last year. Part of the deal was that ZTE would reprimand and deny bonuses to the employees that acted illegally, though the company didn’t meet that part of the deal. Instead, officials told Reuters that full bonuses were given to those employees with only four senior staffers being fired and 35 employees that also violated the law on staff.

“Instead of reprimanding ZTE staff and senior management, ZTE rewarded them. This egregious behavior cannot be ignored.”

Wilbur Ross; US Secretary of Commerce, in a press release

At the time, the company also agreed that it would forfeit its export privileges for seven years if it failed to meet the agreement.

Meanwhile, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre issued a letter to the telecoms industry warning against using equipment or services from ZTE, citing national security concerns. In the letter shown to the Financial Times, adding an additional Chinese supplier on top of the country’s existing use of Huawei equipment would increase the difficulty of “mitigating the risk of external interference.” The National Cyber Security Center also notes that ZTE’s violation of the US sanctions against Iran and North Korea in the 2017 case played a role in the decision to issue the letter.

Coinbase confirms acquisition, CEO Balaji Srinivasan joins as CTO


Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase has agreed to buy, a San Francisco-based startup that uses the blockchain for its paid-email service, in a deal valued at over $120 million. In addition, Coinbase has appointed co-founder and CEO Balaji Srinivasan as its first CTO while the rest of the team will transition over too.

Srinivasan will also continue to be involved with venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and he’ll be part of the company’s Coinbase Ventures investment arm.

Netflix earnings: $3.7B in revenue, 7.41M global new subscribers

Netflix Los Gatos

Netflix’s rapid blitz of original programming attracted 7.4 million new customers from January to March, bringing its global total to 125 million worldwide.

The company predicts that it’ll add another 6.2 million new customers between April and June.

Netflix will spend $8 billion on content this year, with content in the first quarter boosting original programming by 85 percent from a year earlier to 483 hours.

Alongside English-language hits like Altered Carbon and Jessica Jones, Netflix says that non-English programming is also gaining traction. O Mecanismo is on pace to become one of the service’s most-watched original shows in Brazil, and Spanish-language heist thriller La Casa de Papel has become the most-watched non-English series ever on Netflix.

“We have big plans for content growth and you should expect that to continue.”

Reed Hastings; Netflix CEO, on a post-earnings webcast

Revenue in the quarter grew 40 percent year-over-year to $3.7 billion, the fastest pace in the company’s history. The average cost of a Netflix subscription also rose 14 percent during that time.

The company said in its quarterly letter to shareholders that it will “continue to raise debt as needed to fund our increase in original content” with debt levels being “quite modest as a percentage of our enterprise value.”

The company’s market cap is also more than double from a year ago, standing at $137.2 billion.

Net income rose to $290.1 million ($0.64/share) in the quarter that ended on March 31 from $178.2 million ($0.40/share) a year ago.

TaskRabbit investigating cybersecurity incident that temporarily takes down app, website


TaskRabbit is working with an outside cybersecurity firm and law enforcement to figure out a cybersecurity incident that occurred on the handyman-for-hire app.

While the Ikea-owned company is investigating, according to an email sent to its users, the app and the website will be taken down.

The company didn’t say how many people were affected or what information was lost.

“We regret any inconvenience this may cause our clients and Taskers, and will reschedule any uncompleted tasks as soon as possible. For any Tasker who had a task scheduled today and is unable to complete the task, we will compensate them appropriately.”

A TaskRabbit representative, in an emailed statement

Adobe acquires voice app startup Sayspring; app will become invite-only


Adobe has acquired Sayspring, a platform that lets users design, build, and prototype voice apps like Alexa skills or Google Assistant actions.

“The first Sayspring team will join Adobe on Tuesday, April 17, and we’ll begin to integrate the technology into our product portfolio. Details about our plans for Adobe voice solutions will be communicated at a later date, in the meantime Sayspring customers will continue to have access to the platform.”

An Adobe spokesperson, in a blog post

As part of the acquisition, Sayspring CEO Mark Webster said that the company will shift to an invite-only free offering. According to Webster, more robust features will be added to the Sayspring platform soon.

Voicegram, which let Sayspring users record and share their conversations with Alexa, has been shut down in favor of the Audio Converter joining the Sayspring platform.

Google partnering with 3D laser-scanning nonprofit CyArk to build VR representations of historical sites

Google-CyArk Open Heritage Project

Google has partnered with 3D laser-scanning nonprofit CyArk to help preserve historical sites around the world that are at risk of irreversible damage or total erasure due to human conflict and natural disasters. The joint effort, known as the Open Heritage project, will use CyArk’s laser-scanning technology to capture all the relevant data at a historical site needed to recreate it virtually so it can be preserved and explored online on a computer, mobile device, or in VR.

“With modern technology, we can capture these monuments in fuller detail than ever before, including the color and texture of surfaces alongside the geometry captured by the laser scanners with millimeter precision in 3D. These detailed scans can also be used to identify areas of damage and assist restoration efforts.”

Chance Coughenour; Google Arts and Culture digital archaeologist and program manager, in a press release

According to CyArk creator Ben Kacyra, his inspiration to create the nonprofit stems from the Taliban’s destruction of 1,500-year-old Buddhist status in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2001.

To preserve these sites, Kacyra uses advanced versions of the laser-scanning system he helped pioneer at Cyra, along with high-resolution photography captured by drones and DSLR cameras.

One such site in the Ananda Ok Kyaung temple in Bagan, Myanmar, which suffered earthquake damage in 2016. CyArk managed to laser map the site before the disaster, and an interactive 3D tour thorough the temple is one of the experiences launching with this profit. There are 24 other locations from 18 countries around the world, including the Al Azem Palace in Damascus, Syria and the ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico.

“For many of the sites, we also developed intricate 3D models that allow you to inspect from every angle, using the new Google Poly 3D viewer on Google Arts & Culture. Over the past seven years, we’ve partnered with 1,500 museums from over 70 countries to bring their collections online and put more of the world’s culture at your fingertips. This project marks a new chapter for Google Arts & Culture, as it is the first time we’re putting 3D heritage sites on the platform.”

Chance Coughenour

The companies are also planning to release the source data of the models, with researchers and other interested parties able to apply to download the data to build applications or to analyze it for ways to help preserve and restore the real-life monuments and sites. The Open Heritage models will be available online and on the Google Arts and Culture iOS and Android apps. Those mobile apps will also support the VR tours through Google’s Daydream platform.

Lyft drivers have earned over $500M in tips since the company launched in 2012; tip averages up 8% year-over-year in 2017


Lyft drivers have earned over $500 million in tips to date, according to the company. Since encouraging higher tip amounts last June, tip averages increased by nearly eight percent last year compared to 2016.

In other news…

  • Snapchat is opening up its ubiquitous face Lenses to anyone and promoting them in a public Story specifically for them.
  • FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is stepping down from the commission.
  • Mobvoi is taking a stab at the untapped market for the Android AirPods with the $129 TicPods Free.
  • Microsoft and 33 other technology companies, including Dell, HP, and Cisco have signed on to the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, a pledge to work together to combat cyberattacks and refrain from assisting governments in launching them.
  • Facebook has begun piloting a fact-checking program in India. International Fact-Checking Network certified company Boom will review English language stories flagged on the site and provide accuracy ratings after checking the stories’ facts.

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